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Senate backs extra pay for math, science teachers
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ATLANTA — Help Wanted: Math and science teachers. Pay: On the rise.

In the midst of a recession where jobs are vanishing at an alarming rate, a shortage of educators certified to teach math and science has Georgia sweetening the pot. The state Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to boost pay for the educators beginning in the 2010 school year.

The bill would allow new secondary school teachers with proper math or science certification to start at the salary of a fifth year teacher. That’s a boost of about $4,561, to $37,985 a year, under the state salary schedule. The teacher’s salary would then continue to rise a step every year for five years. After that, the increase would be tied to student performance.

The House has already passed the legislation but must reconsider it because of a minor change made by the Senate on Thursday.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said in January that Georgia faces a "critical shortage" of teachers certified in math and science, even as demand for such specialties rises.

In 2008, 14.3 percent of all Georgia math teachers were not fully certified, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Another 18.6 percent of physical science teachers and 16.2 percent of life sciences teachers lacked full certification, the commission said.

The shortfall in Georgia mirrors what education officials say is a national trend.

The Georgia bill focuses on high schools but would also reward elementary school teachers who increase their competency in math and science with a $1,000 annual bonus if they earn an endorsement from the Professional Standards Commission.

The incentives would together cost about $9.9 million a year. None of that money is included in the current budget; it will need to be in the fiscal year 2011 budget Perdue will unveil next January.

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said the legislation should have included special education teachers and those in rural districts, who are also in demand.

"The idea in concept was not bad, but they could have done a lot more with it," Hubbard said.

The bill which passed Thursday would hike the salaries of certified math and science teachers with less than five years experience to a fifth-year pay level. But those teachers with more than five years in the classroom wouldn’t see a bump.

State Department of Education spokesman Dana Tofig said districts have been scrambling to staff math and science classrooms, especially advanced high school classes.

In other action during Thursday’s session:

  • A compromise plan on transportation funding was rejected by the state Senate as members of the House Transportation Committee neared a vote on a separate transportation overhaul proposal. Perdue and Senate leaders are backing an overhaul of the transportation bureaucracy that gives lawmakers more control over how transportation dollars are used. The House committee is set to vote on its version today. Meanwhile, lawmakers are clashing over competing plans for voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax hike for infrastructure projects.
  • The Senate agreed to give prosecutors more leeway to seek sentences of life in prison without parole. The proposal has been approved by the House and now heads to the governor.
  • The Senate voted 42-4 to give Georgians a one-time tax credit when they purchase a single-family home or condominium. The credit would total 1.2 percent of the purchase price or $3,600, whichever is less. State Sen. Chip Pearson, a Dawsonville Republican, said it would be "a true stimulus," encouraging home buyers to act now. The Senate made minor changes to a House bill that must be worked out.
  • The legislature is seeking to soften mandatory buffers aimed at protecting Georgia’s waterways from pollution and development. The House voted 106-58 Thursday to remove buffers around unnamed tributaries, or ephemeral streams. House and Senate lawmakers must now hash out differences before sending it to Perdue.
  • The House unanimously passed a measure that would ban state and local governments from contracting with companies that work in Sudan’s oil, military and energy sectors. The proposal, which already has passed the Senate, goes to the governor.